The Time for Paid Family and Medical Leave Is Now

The need for paid family and medical need has only become more critical during the COVID-19 pandemic.

All workers deserve basic workplace protections, including paid family and medical leave. At some point, nearly everyone needs time to recover from a serious illness, care for a sick loved one, or welcome a new child into their home. Public policies should ensure that people can care for themselves and their families without jeopardizing their jobs or economic security. Yet, in Illinois, 59% of families cannot even take the unpaid leave they need without risking their jobs or their economic security.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which entitles some workers to take unpaid leave in specified circumstances, is wholly inadequate to address this need. Today, 77% of workers have no paid family leave, and 60% have no paid medical leave, which usually takes the form of short-term disability leave. Yet employers have not acted to protect their own workers.

The need for paid family and medical need has only become more critical during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for low-wage workers and workers of color. In the past two years, people of color experienced disproportionately high rates of COVID-19 infection and death, devastating workers, their families, and their communities.  Yet Latino/a/x workers are 66% more likely, Black workers are 83% more likely, and Native American, Asian American Pacific Islander, and multiracial workers are 100% more likely to be unable to take leave when needed.

Add gender and caregiving responsibilities to the mix, and the lack of paid family and medical leave becomes untenable. Illinois mothers are key family breadwinners in 84% of Black families, 47% of Latino/a/x families, 47% of white families, and 43% of Asian American Pacific Islander families. And although women make up half the workforce, they are responsible for the majority of unpaid family household and care work. Further, as the population ages and the share of people over 65 grows, the need for family caregiving will continue to grow. This will have a profound impact on women. Maintaining an attachment to the workforce is vital to women’s economic stability—an employment gap of just one year leads to a 39% decrease in annual earnings, and that increases over time. Whenever a woman takes an unpaid leave, the whole family, and Illinois, suffers.

The Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act, HB 5029 / SB 835 SA1, which is currently pending in the Illinois General Assembly, would create a state-operated program to provide all Illinois workers paid, job-guaranteed leave. The program is designed to be equitable, inclusive, and comprehensive. It includes low-wage workers, gig workers, full- and part-time workers, workers who work for more than one employer, and the self-employed. No one should have to choose between a paycheck and caring for themselves or a loved one. It is time for Illinois to deliver on paid family and medical leave for all workers. Take action by contacting your state Senator and state House representative and urge them to support HB 5029/SB 835 SA1. 

About the Author

Wendy Pollack
Wendy Pollack
Wendy Pollack
Women's Law & Policy Initiative Director


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Our laws and policies must support people by ensuring fair work at a living wage and by providing the income supports families need to be successful.

Everyone should be paid decently and have basic workplace protections.

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